Logan Circle restaurant 1409 Playbill Cafe will close its doors at 1409 14th Street NW at the end of the week. The cafe and mini-theater has been drawing theater fans and industry players to the location since 1998.
Owners Elsayed Mansour and Jeffrey DeMontier opened long before the neighborhood was popular and took a big risk to settle there in the Pre-Whole Foods days. The Logan Circle store on P Street opened in December 2000 where an abandoned garage had stood. It was a catalyst for development on the 1400 block of P Street as well as adjacent blocks on 14th Street and Church Street NW.
The owners — who also happen to be 30-year residents of the neighborhood — hope to relocate to another space in the vicinity sometime soon. Borderstan spoke with Mansour about 1409 Playbill Cafe and Logan Circle.
Borderstan: Tell us about what your vision was for the cafe when you first opened?
Mansour: Both of us are theater lovers so we wanted to do something for that community. Studio Theatre, Woolly Mammoth* and Source really encouraged us to open. We were one of the first restaurants to embrace the theater community. Today, they come from other theaters all over the city. We get a late crowd, after the shows.
Borderstan: What was Logan Circle like back then?
Mansour: It was a somewhat undesirable place to go out to eat at a restaurant. There were lots of problems back then — prostitution, drug dealing, crime — but we loved the neighborhood and decided to go forward anyway.
Borderstan: What do you think of the changes that have taken place in Logan Circle?
Mansour: It has improved a lot financially since the opening of Whole Foods, which really anchored the neighborhood. I think the police and the city took notice, and it has improved the safety. But now the standard of living has improved so much that the old-time residents can no longer afford the area.
Borderstan: Why do you need to close?
Mansour: Our lease was up last year and now we are on a short-term lease, which is very expensive. The building was built as part of a temporary strip mall on what was a parking lot. It was part of an effort by the Logan Circle community to get the owner to help eliminate the drug dealing and crime that was taking place in the lot. I expect they will build a high-rise eventually.
Borderstan: When you find a new location, will you keep the same name and concept?
Mansour: Yes, the same theme. We will just use the number of the new address in front of Playbill Cafe. We have a loyal following and we want them to come back. We have a small 50-seat theater called Black Box and we also started a foundation called Playbill Foundation to support the theater in the future.
Borderstan: When you are not working, what are some of your favorite places in the neighborhood to eat out at or have a drink?
Mansour: It would be unfair to say I have a favorite, I like to support all of the neighborhood restaurants.
*Longtime residents of Logan Circle will recall that Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company was originally located in a warehouse at 14th and Church Streets NW in what is now Homemade Pizza Company and the Lofts 14 Condominium. Woolly Mammoth opened their permanent home at 641 D Street NW, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood in 2005.